Universal Preschool: What’s Behind the Claims That It Will Stop Crime, Secure Your Child’s Future, Save Social Security & Provide A Free Government Nanny!
This is one in a chain of propaganda links that have been unleashed on Californians through all media venues courtesy of California First Five (www.ccfc.ca.gov). All of the ads preach the same gospel: If your child goes to preschool, they will do better in kindergarten and elementary school, graduate from high school, attend college, get good jobs, earn more money, and will be less likely to do drugs and commit crimes than kids who don’t go to preschool. California First Five is a tobacco tax funded front for the California School Board supported “Children & Families Act of 1998.” Their mission statement is as follows:
“Current research in brain development clearly indicates that the emotional, physical and intellectual environment that a child is exposed to in the early years of life has a profound impact on how the brain is organized. The experiences a child has with respect to parents and caregivers significantly influence how a child will function in school and later in life. The California Children and Families Act of 1998 is designed to provide, on a community-by-community basis, all children prenatal to five years of age with a comprehensive, integrated system of early childhood development services. Through the integration of health care, quality childcare, parent education and effective intervention programs for families at risk, children and their parents and caregivers will be provided with the tools necessary to foster secure, healthy and loving attachments. These attachments will lay the emotional, physical and intellectual foundation for every child to enter school ready to learn and develop the potential to become productive, well-adjusted members of society.”
I find the use of the word “attachments” puzzling, since separating young children from their parents at an early age hardly fosters attachment to mom and dad. Attachment and dependency on the state as nanny, seems more likely. In fact, you can bet on it.
(You can access the CA ED Master Plan at: http://tinyurl.com/53opo.)
Around the state, some state preschool programs are already operating. Three- and four-year-olds in Alameda County and Santa Clara County participate in the non-profit Kidango preschool programs (www.kidango.org) subsidized by The California Department of Education through a $1.1 million grant. The First Five Commission in San Mateo County has commissioned a study to determine feasibility of universal preschool. Merced County offers universal preschool in most of its school districts funded by a $560,000 annual grant from the state education department. The city of San Jose has a plan to use federal, state, and city funds to make universal preschool accessible to all city residents. In Silicon Valley, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation is providing help to those who advocate for and develop universal preschool. Los Angeles County’s First Five Commission voted to spend $100 million to help “upgrade” existing subsidized half-day preschools to full-time facilities. The programs have waiting lists, and are available on an income-based need basis. In time, First Five plans to make universal preschool available to middle-income families as well.
Lynch states that children of poverty (and we are talking about kids in abject poverty whose socio-economic circumstances are so dire, they are identified as “at risk”) benefit from early childhood development programs. He reports that 20% of children in the U.S. are living in these circumstances and would profit from government funded early childhood development programs. Taxpayers would shoulder the burden of 20% of the childhood population whose parents cannot properly care for them. This report makes a financial case that supporting universal preschool will allow these children to be properly managed through the school system, so that they will grow up to become human resources that contribute to (and thus save) Social Security! Apparently it’s a short leap in the government’s mind to see that if these programs help critically poor children, they will also “help” the other 80% of the population that isn’t poor contribute to the restoration of Social Security -- hence, universal preschool. And you can bet that mandatory preschool won’t be far behind. Preschoolers, as potential taxpayers, must accept their fare share of responsibility for the fiscal mismanagement of the Social Security system. Government funded retirement begins with preschoolers.
Expect to see more and more advertisements touting the benefits of preschooling funded by corporations, teacher’s unions, misguided celebrities, government programs and anyone who stands to benefit economically. Expect to see more and more legislation introduced to make preschool universal and eventually mandatory (just as legislation is introduced annually in California to make Kindergarten mandatory).
The media prematurely touted the success of this government program, and somehow the claims were exaggerated to imply that ALL children who had “formal training” in their preschool years would do BETTER academically throughout their school careers. Head Start coincided with the advent of two-income families and the need for childcare. Preschool programs became a popular idea -- giving EVERY child some of the “advantages” most (who were not poor) would have received at home anyway. That, coupled with the demand for daycare, accounts for the beginning of the social acceptance of preschool today.
It is interesting to note, that forty years after the beginning of Head Start, reports indicate it has not delivered the benefits supporters would like you to think it has to the 17 million children who have participated. In fact, Karen Holgate, Director of Legislative Affairs for the California Family Council, sets the record straight in a brilliant expose titled Master Plan for Education – Universal Preschool: Does It really help children? Is it worth the cost? Written in August 2004 (and available to read online at www.californiafamily.org), Holgate provides compelling evidence that Head Start is a forty-four billion dollar boondoggle. She says, “…a 1985 Department of Health and Human Services report said that while Head Start can produce an ‘immediate positive impact on cognitive measures, social behavior and child health, among other things,’ any positive impact quickly diminishes once children enter school. In fact, the study said, ‘In the long run, cognitive and socio-emotional test scores of former Head Start students do not remain superior to those of disadvantaged children who did not attend Head Start… By the end of the second year there are no educationally meaningful differences on any of the measures … [and for] social behavior, former Head Start enrollees … drop to the level of comparison children by the end of the third year.’” Regardless, Head Start is used as an exemplary model for many government preschool programs.
If you’re not susceptible to the Head Start buzz, there is other persuasive rhetoric used to promote universal preschool. Rob Reiner and the California Teacher’s Association introduced an initiative that was intended for the ballot in November of 2004. Although it was dropped (but will probably be resurrected), it was called the Improving Classroom Education Act (ICEA) and proclaimed an oft-repeated refrain by those who support universal preschool, “Studies show that children who go to preschool do better in reading and math and are more likely to graduate from high school and college. That is why we should give all children access to voluntary universal preschool to help them succeed.”
Once again, Karen Holgate counters this highly subjective declaration. She writes, “While some studies do support the above statement, other objective analyses of those studies dispute the conclusions. For instance, the ICEA’s declaration (and those of other proponents of universal preschool) points to the federally funded Head Start program and two other preschool intervention models.”
We have already seen that despite an investment of $44 billion taxpayer dollars, Head Start makes no meaningful educational difference. The other two preschool programs frequently referred to as providing proof of the success of preschool are The Perry Preschool Project and the Abecedarian Project. According to Holgate, while researchers of the Perry Preschool Project claimed that participants “had lower incidences of adult crime, higher income, a greater commitment to marriage, and were less dependent on welfare,” critics disputed the claims citing “flawed methodologies were used and, therefore, wrong conclusions assumed from both of the highly specialized programs.”
She explains that only low-income, at-risk children were selected to participate in the studies. In the case of the Perry Project (http://www.highscope.org/Research/PerryProject/perrymain.htm), only 3 and 4 year old African-American children who were determined to be in danger of ‘retarded intellectual functioning and eventual school failure,’ were enrolled and Holgate rightly points out that’s “hardly a representative model of how the average child, or even the average at-risk child, would do.” Indeed, average, normal, mainstream, advantaged kids of diverse ethnicities haven’t been the subjects of preschool studies. There is no evidence to know if these programs would be beneficial to them, and according to some researchers, it would be detrimental.
The Perry and Abecedarian programs also involved rigorous intervention in the home-lives of the program participants. In the Perry Preschool Program, one parent was required to be at home during the day -- a factor that seemed to be discounted in terms of the impact it might have had on the growth and development of the kids documented in the study. It was assumed that attending preschool was the reason for their success.
Interestingly, the Carolina Abecedarian Project (http://www.fpg.unc.edu/~abc/index.cfm) required children of low-income families to be placed in full-time day care from infancy to age 5. The highly- trained daycare staff included credentialed teachers and assistants trained in child development. Individualized programs were designed for the children that included games and activities to develop language, social, emotional, and thinking skills. Author, Joanne Jacobs, wrote about the project in an article titled Universal Preschool for the San Francisco Chronicle. She said, “As young adults, Abcedarian grads showed significant gains in education and employment compared with children from similar backgrounds. They did not catch up with middle-class children. The Abecedarian model costs about $13,000 per child, double the cost of a year of Head Start and four times more than the average state-run preschool…Universal preschool will suck up money that could be used to provide quality child care and preschool for the neediest kids. That’s assuming there is any money in California’s budget.” Once again, there are no comparative studies to recommend universal preschool as an advantageous objective for all children. However, the policy implication of the Abcedarian Project is that poverty is increasing among America’s Children and more and more of them will require out of home care (emphasis mine).
Again, these three studies that are referred to over and over again in universal preschool hype, have been conducted on low-income, at-risk kids. How do those results translate to mainstream children? There isn’t any proof that they do, no matter how often Rob Reiner or government pundits beat the “studies show” drum. In fact, there are a number of revered child-development experts who strongly oppose the institutionalization of young children and warn of the potential damage psychologically, emotionally, socially and physically to them if separated from their parents and homes. In Mary Eberstadt’s Home Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs and Other Parent Substitutes the author makes a case for why parental absence in the lives of children has created a whole new crop of social ills. David Elkind sounds the alarm in his book, Miseducation: Preschoolers At Risk. Elkind insists that, “What’s happening in the United States today is truly astonishing. In a society which prides itself for facts over hearsay, openness to research etc., research and opinion on how children learn and how best to teach them is being ignored.” Further, Elkind claims that, “No authority in the field of child psychology, pediatrics, or child psychiatry advocates formal education, in any domain, of infants and young children. In fact, the weight of solid professional opinion opposes it and advocates... a rich and stimulating environment that is... warm, loving, and supportive of a child’s own learning priorities and pacing. It is within this... environment that infants and young children acquire a solid sense of security, positive self-esteem, and long-term enthusiasm for learning.” Elkind, a professor of child studies at Tufts University, also raises the ugly and frequently unacknowledged issues of status and competition as driving factors in the proclivity of parents to enroll their children in “prestigious” preschool programs. It’s not about what’s best for the children; it’s about what makes mom and dad look and feel good. With more than half of the population of infants and young children enrolled in extended preschool programs, Eberstadt and Elkind leave little hope for a bright future for institutionalized little kids.
Another mantra that is used to convince parents that preschool will improve their children goes something like this, “Most brain development occurs in the early years. We can make more of a difference in children’s lives with preschool programs.” It makes a frightening difference according to various essayists in the book, Who Will Rock the Cradle? As an example, it points to the 1970 White House Conference on Children that explained: “Daycare is a powerful institution. A daycare program that administers to a child from six months to six years of age has over 8,000 hours to teach him values, fears, beliefs, and behaviors.” As for brain development, yes it’s true the early years are when the most significant brain development occurs. However, in Your Child’s Growing Mind: Brain Development and Learning From Birth to Adolescence, renowned educational psychologist and authority on brain development in children, Jane Healy, Ph.D., says to parents, “Give your child the gift of patience for the broad-based mental experiences that will underlie joyous learning throughout life…Childhood is a process, not a product, and so is learning. In a society that often respects products more than the processes of creation and thought, it is easy to fall into the trap of anxiety over measuring achievement in isolated skills. Have faith – in childhood and yourself. Children’s brains generally seek what they need, and nature has given you the instincts to help them get it.”
No one is denying that we need programs to help critically poor kids. Parents need options for their young children, like the co-op and private preschool programs that are available, along with home preschool and even no preschool (just nurturing parents). But government funded, universal and/or mandatory preschool must be resisted -- especially when all signs point to an exercise in social engineering and, in my view, what seems like a sinister plot to restore the Social Security coffers! Can the government that suggests such a thing possibly have your young child’s best educational interests in mind? More than ever, parents need to be informed in order to maintain their right to determine the educational path of their own children without government mandates or interference.
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